Israel girds for regional anti-Israel protests

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By Diaa Hadid / AP

JERUSALEM: Israeli security forces in riot gear prepared Friday for Palestinian and Arab demonstrations, deploying at traditional flashpoints and along Israel’s frontiers and confining West Bank Palestinians to their territory.

By midday, minor skirmishes had broken out between protesters and security forces in the Jerusalem area.

Palestinians threw rocks and Israeli troops responded with stun grenades. No casualties were reported.

Elsewhere things were calm.

Palestinians were banned from entering from the West Bank except for medical emergencies, and police barred Palestinian men under 40 from visiting a volatile Jerusalem holy site.

Military deployments along Israel’s borders were reinforced to repulse any attempts to breach Israel’s borders as demonstrators did twice last year, touching off deadly clashes with Israeli troops.

The Land Day rallies are an annual event marked by Israeli Arabs and Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza who protest what they say are discriminatory Israeli land policies.

Supporters in neighboring Arab countries also planned marches near the Israeli frontier.

Security forces were bracing for trouble in the Jerusalem area and in northern Israel, where a large portion of Israel’s Arab minority lives. Troops fanned out along the frontiers with Lebanon and Syria in the north, Jordan to the east, and Egypt and the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip to the south.

In southern Lebanon, more than 3,000 Lebanese and Palestinians gathered outside the Crusader-built Beaufort castle 15 kilometers (9 miles) from the Israeli border, waving Palestinian flags, singing Palestinian national songs and performing the traditional dabke dance. Security forces kept them from moving any closer to the border.

Sobhiyeh Mizari, 70, said she always taught her 12 children “never to forget Palestine.”

“We will liberate our land against the will of Israel and its backers,” said Mizari, adding that her husband was killed in Israeli shelling of Lebanon in 1978. “I would have preferred to be at the border today.”

Israeli soldiers killed at least 38 Arab demonstrators on two other charged occasions last year after protesters headed for Israel’s northern frontier. Palestinian and Arab authorities said they would keep marchers from reaching borders this time to minimize clashes.

Several dozen Palestinians who live in east Jerusalem waved their national flag outside Jerusalem’s walled Old City. “One, one homeland!” they chanted.

Because of restrictions preventing them from entering the Al-Aqsa Mosque, Islam’s third-holiest site, the demonstrators performed their communal Muslim Friday prayers where they stood, praying on their flags instead of traditional mats.

They were surrounded by what appeared to be an equal number of Israeli security forces — police on horseback, riot police with batons and shields, military police and regular blue-clad forces.

Many Palestinians, energized by Arab Spring uprisings that have overturned decades-old authoritarian regimes, see massive, coordinated marches as one of the most effective strategies to draw attention to their cause.

“After the Arab revolutions, there’s awareness of the importance of popular participation,” said Arab activist Jafar Farah. “This has rattled the Arab regimes, and now it’s frightening the Israeli government.”

AP correspondents Bassem Mroue from Beirut and Daniella Cheslow in Jerusalem contributed to this report.


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